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Pacific Standard Time artist Judy Chicago looks back on 'The Dinner Party'

Artist Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum with her famous
Artist Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum with her famous "Dinner Party" piece.
Courtesy Judy Chicago/Donald Woodman

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Pacific Standard Time reviews art from 1945 to 1980. Towards the end of that period, L.A.-based artist Judy Chicago created "The Dinner Party," a massive installation that honors 1,038 real and mythical women for their contribution to human civilization using symbolic place settings atop a ceremonial banquet table.

The feminist work follows a timeline starting from prehistory with the Greek Primordial Goddess through the development of the Roman Empire to early Christianity and the Reformation and concluding with the American Revolution and the Women’s Revolution marked by Susan B. Anthony and Georgia O’Keefe.

The piece was executed between 1974 and 1979 with the help of hundreds of volunteers working in a studio space; now know as the 18th Street Art Center in Santa Monica. During that time buzz about the work being created there spurred visits from curious souls, including Joan Mondale, ceramicist and wife of then Vice President Walter Mondale. “This building was just a beehive of activity,” said Chicago.

Chicago’s absolute dedication to her work and no-nonsense attitude were out of touch with the expectations of women in that time. “A lot of these women were brought up to stop their work whenever anyone needed anything or wanted anything,” she said. But Chicago risked everything, including her marriage and finances, to complete “The Dinner Party.”

When the exhibition opened on March 14, 1979 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 5,000 people were in attendance. “Nothing would’ve prepared me or us for the reception,” Chicago said, “People were coming up to me and giving me gifts and putting flowers around my neck and telling me that seeing ‘The Dinner Party’ had changed their lives.”

Chicago’s installation has been featured in 16 exhibitions and is currently a long-term installation at the Brooklyn Museum.